World’s most stupid question

If this article is correct, Iran’s inherent systemic failures mean that it’s not as far along in developing a nuclear bomb as concerned Western nations have feared.  But the article’s author goes on to ask what I can only call a really stupid question (emphasis mine):

The news comes as a great relief. But it also raises questions. This was a serious intelligence failure, one that has led some of Israel’s own officials to wonder aloud, “Did we cry wolf too early?”

Indeed, Israel has consistently overestimated Iran’s nuclear program for decades. In 1992, then Foreign Minister Shimon Peres announced that Iran was on pace to have the bomb by 1999. Israel’s many subsequent estimates have become increasingly frenzied but have been consistently wrong. U.S. intelligence agencies have been only slightly less alarmist, and they, too, have had to extend their timelines repeatedly.

Overestimating Iran’s nuclear potential might not seem like a big problem. However, similar, unfounded fears were the basis for President George W. Bush’s preemptive attack against Iraq and its nonexistent weapons of mass destruction. Israel and the United States need to make sure that this kind of human and foreign policy disaster does not happen again.

What explains Israel’s most recent intelligence failure?

From there on out, the author talks about intelligence failures, politics, and all sorts of other stuff.

That’s all so complicated.  It seems to me that Israel overestimates the bomb threat for one very simple reason:  She’s the first in line when/if Iran finally gets a bomb.  Given Israel’s highest priority as Iran’s first target for its weapon of mass destruction, Israel might be a little antsy and might think that it’s better to be too worried, rather than too sanguine.  After all, as one Holocaust victim memorably said, “When someone says they’re going to kill you, take them seriously.”

No matter how far Iran has gotten with the bomb, it’s already too far for Israel’s peace of mind and safety.  Anything greater than no bomb at all is a risk.  And that’s why the article’s question is disingenuous.  Even if all the other reasons for Israel’s intelligence errors are true, one must never lose sight of the fact that Israel has reason to be very afraid — and that tends to make both people and nations jumpy.

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  • Oldflyer

    Maybe his rant would make some sense if intelligence were an exact science; or even if it were more science than art.  Since it is not, a smallish vulnerable country can err on only one side.
    It does not require a rocket scientist to deduce this truth.


    The author sits on the board of the CNS (Center for Nonproliferation Studies). The Monterey Institute of International Studies is the largest nongovernmental organization in the United States devoted exclusively to research & training to stop the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction (WMD). My Mom always used to say, “consider the source” – so I did.   Stuxnet inhibited Iran’s program – I don’t consider that an intelligence failure by any measure.

  • Spartacus

    We discovered that Pakistan apparently had a nuclear program because the needle on a seismometer did something unexpected one day.  That’s a bad way to learn that your intelligence estimates completely missed something important.  Why everyone seems to think we will know right down to the minute when the Iranians are going to have their bomb ready absolutely escapes me.
    The Mad Mullahs of Preacher Command have given Israel causus belli on days ending in ‘y’ since about 1979.  Israel shows more restraint than wisdom in waiting, rather than kicking in the door with an EMP, doing the two hardened nuke production sites with tactical nukes (which are far less scary than most people think), and the two less-hardened sites with conventional munitions.  The UN would vote to condemn them, but that also happens on days ending in ‘y,’ so no real change there.
    A hot war between Israel and Iran as opposed to the current cold one may seem like “the devil we don’t know,” and thus less preferable.  But a nuclear Iran is also a devil we don’t know, and almost certainly worse.

  • Mike Devx

    Thx Sadie and Spartacus!  Sadie for the info that this guy is a political advocate of non-proliferation and cannot be trusted to be objective, and Spartacus for the reminder that we can be very unpleasantly surprised by a nation’s unexpected progress.
    I file this fellow’s report under the heading of “Iran *might* not be as capable of producing a nuclear weapon as conventional wisdom might think.”   Then I throw it in the garbage can – and wait for confirmation from other sources that Israeli security estimates of the Iranian threat have in fact been downgraded.  
    I am also reminded that security assessments can be driven, at times, solely by the political needs of the day and at those times have nothing to do with a realistic security assessment.  Beware, be cautious, verify.  Wait and see.

  • weathtd

    Iraq’s “nonexistent weapons of mass destruction”?  They did exist but we gave them 18 months to move them to Syria with Russian assistance.  That was one of the biggest shell games in history.  Better to be prepared ahead of time instead of playing “catch-up”.  That’s the situation we’re in now in regards to EMP.  No one in DC wants to acknowledge the potential disaster of doing nothing.

  • David Foster

    The author is arguing that nuclear weapons represent a very difficult management problem and that this is beyond Iran’s “chaotic” government.
    But mismangement was rife both in Hitler’s Germany and and the Soviet Union of Stalin and his successors, and this did not stop those governments from creating some very advanced and deadly weapons.